Life can be surprising sometimes. Some people hate surprises and even get mad at you when you don’t tell them what they are getting for their birthday or that they are having a surprise party. These are the people who need to be able to predict everything and hold grudges against weather men when they feel the slightest drop of rain. Then there are sane people who generally like surprises because it makes life interesting. I say generally because there are two types of surprises; the bad surprises that no one likes and good surprises that some of us like. A bad surprise is like when your parents go on vacation and you think they will bring you back some weird novelty t-shirt and they actually bring you back a book mark. A good surprise is like when your parents go on vacation and you think they are going to bring you back a weird novelty t-shirt and they actually bring you back a pet giraffe.
We also all have expectations…about everything…even stuff we don’t think we have expectations about. Take this morning for instance. When you woke up and opened your eyes and expected to still be in your bed that is in your room that has at least four walls and a ceiling. When you wake up and find yourself sleep next to a highway in a puddle of brownish red fluid you hope is either engine oil or power steering fluid and your expectations aren't met you get a surprise. In this case, it’s a bookmark type of surprise.
I say all this because it has been well over a week since I returned from my trip to New Orleans and I have had time to process the events that took place there. I had the expectation that it would be primarily a work trip that would strain me physically but leave my emotions undisturbed. I got a surprise…a pet giraffe kind of surprise. I was overwhelmed with the poverty but delighted by how Christ’s love was shown in such a dark place. I want to share with you a few of the most important insights I had while in Louisiana.
One of the days down there we had our stuff ganked. That’s New Orleans speak for, “some of our belongings were stolen out of our van while we were working less than 30 feet away.” We were a bit frustrated at first but eventually we came to the conclusion that it was just stuff. Later on I came to a little better conclusion I think. I had been praying for a while that God would allow me to help the poor and minister to them in their need. I had no idea what this would look like. I had no idea that it might look like a guy steeling our IPod, cameras, and cash then pawning them off so he can feed his family.
The situation brought Job 1:21 to mind. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” None of that stuff was really ours. It was God’s to use and control as he pleased. Whenever the Lord takes away it is for a purpose. Sometimes he takes away to lessen our dependence on certain things and increase our dependence on him. I think in this case he might have taken away from us so he could give to someone else. When I think like this I feel like a twisted sort of Robin Hood. Instead of “steal from the rich and give to the poor” it is “The poor steal from the rich cause they need it more.”
Another day we grilled out at our worksite and asked the neighbors to come over and join us. The neighbors were known drug dealers and prostitutes. In fact they were selling drugs and women out of the house we were working next to. While we were eating burnt hot dogs and listen to the neighbors share their Katrina horror stories I started to think of how judge mental and selfish we usually are. We avoid homeless people because they smell bed and always ask for money and forget that they are people created in the image of God who desire to be acknowledged and loved as a part of society just like the rest of us. We see a poor guy on the street corner asking for spare change with a bent up card board sign and we tell him we don’t have anything because he might use the ten bucks we have in our wallet to go buy drugs or booze. But when asked what a person must do to enter the kingdom of heaven Jesus told the rich man to sell all he had and give it to the poor. He didn’t say, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor unless you think they are going to use the money to buy a 40 oz. bottle of cheap beer and get hammered before 9:30 in the morning.” Oh, by the way, Jesus was a homeless guy who had nothing but the sandals on his feet and the clothes on his back. He relied on good people in the community to provide for him. I wonder how long he would have survived in our communities where we avoid poor people like we avoid the Ebola Virus. James 1:27 says, “This is pure undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” How does your “religion” line up?
I say all this at the risk of sounding emergent. I’m not. I don’t mean to preach to anyone besides myself, but as Christians (or maybe just some denominations) sometimes we pride ourselves in having the entire Bible figured out. We know how to do word studies and we study Greek and Hebrew so that we know exactly what the Word meant in its original languages. When it comes to the application and practice of Scripture we fall in line behind the Pharisees and ignore God’s two greatest commandments. Love God, Love others. Simple. We “say” we love God…Remember Matthew 25?
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
Sometimes the best way to love God is by loving his children, especially the poor, rejected, homeless and needy children.
Ok, I am now stepping off my soap box.
So I got a pet Giraffe on my trip to New Orleans. But the Giraffe beat me up a little bit. My heart was broken for the people of that city. But I also learned that poor people don’t just exist in New Orleans. There are people all around me that need my help, my love and more importantly they need to recognize that they have the love of God. I know most of you didn’t go on the trip with me but I hope this gave a glimpse of what happened. We have so much to be grateful for. And yes I know I ended that sentence with a preposition and my wife will want to make me change it. Thanks for reading!
…and go feed a poor person today.